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Review - Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (by Jonah Goldberg)

A recent proposal by the student body at London University to campaign against the BNP was unceremoniously rejected by the Tory Party’s youth wing unless, they stated, the BNP was identified as a left wing party. It would seem on this occasion leftwing fascism is exclusively the enemy for these young Tories. But there is nothing new about this muddled thinking or its intended implications. To this vein, we can safely say Liberal Fascism belongs. It is an essential crash course in historical revisionism for the American free market right.

Luigi Fabbri described the rise of Italian fascism as a “preventive counter-revolution” to the 1920s worker occupations in Italy. For Goldberg, fascism is defined as:

…a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.

There is nothing wrong with saying statism is about bad politics but something else is clearly going on here. (A better definition of fascism can be gleaned from the work of Umberto Eco, for those interested.) We are told that the reason for variants between different national fascisms is because “fascisms differ from each other because they grow out of different soil”. Thus begins the clear fudging of what Goldberg defines as the makeup of fascism. German fascism (Nazism) is a product of the social, political and cultural roots of Germany, similarly for Spain, Italy etc., and so it follows that American fascism is one without need of concentration camps, but one deeply imbued with American liberal culture and institutions. So, essentially, American fascism is a friendly-esque totalitarianism which utilises a plural and pragmatic discourse while bullying the populace into all manner of nasty things. From this we should gather that Goldberg doesn’t have the KKK, the various Aryan outfits, the American Nazi Party or any actual nazi group in his sights; no, he’s taking time to smear the liberal left, not without reason, but he’s missed the wood for the trees.

On the surface this sounds ridiculous, but Goldberg fleshes this out using a myriad of selective sources. He tries to argue that the French Revolution and Rousseau were wellsprings for both liberalism and the emerging fascist movement, that fascism is a left wing movement, that progressives were key supporters of fascism – syndicalists, à la Georges Sorel, are also roped into the smear – and that a number of past US administrations and present policies are indeed fascist.

What starts out as political history increasingly looks like a very personalised diatribe. Take the French Revolution; at different points it can mean different things, but there was potential for progress from the beginning and it is purely ideological of Goldberg to dismiss it. Among other things, the ending of slavery in Europe was a blow delivered by the French Revolution, not to mention the ending of monarchic absolutism. The fascist project during the last century was a movement that sought to defend capital and drew elements from a number of strata. Its absorption of “socialists” like Mussolini was possible because of the political bankruptcy of the Social Democratic movements that had been haemorrhaging members and moving further and further away from any meaningful working class radicalism. Socialism or barbarism as proximity with the truth, it would seem.

The political insight of these fascist thugs was one of rabid anti-intellectualism, not that of a cohort of leftist thinkers as Goldberg would have us believe. What’s more, the political model of the German Nazi Party and the Italian Black Shirts was always one of “Bismarckian” reformism – i.e. giving reforms to minimise working class militancy – and corporatism – i.e. the incorporation of economic, industrial, agrarian, social, cultural and/or professional bodies into the state.

The far right have tried to continually undercut the radical left in terms of radical sounding reforms but their interests are firmly wedded to protecting capital. You only have to look up some of the monetary handouts the BNP receives to get your head around this.

It’s telling that, in weaving this history together, Goldberg has little room to mention the right’s, or indeed capital’s, involvement in any of this; but evidently that would be another book entirely.

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Jonah Goldberg)
Penguin 2009 – 496 pages – £9.99 – ISBN: 978-0141039503

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